Monday, September 22, 2008

The West

This is shop related, but not shop. I just thought I'd add to my collection of 'great shitheads from history' (some mentioned towards the end of this post) with the following character.

Without further ado, I give you Colonel John Milton Chivington - Methodist minister, Abolitionist, and mass-murdering war criminal. Only read that if you think you have a strong stomach.

I came across an article on the Sand Creek Massacre when reading up on Native American history (I know that no-one outside of textbooks ever uses the term, but hey, I'm a middle class white liberal--I can't resist over-sensitive PC terminology). After I read it, I was so disgusted I spent the next half an hour struggling to keep my lunch down, and so angry that I couldn't concentrate on anything for hours. Which really, is a shamefully mild reaction to what I read.

At least I also learned of one person to add to the good people list, Captain Silas Soule. I know it's not considered intelligent to see people in terms of good or bad, and in general I don't. But I believe there are exceptions, and I'll cling to the romantic hope that there is such a thing as a heroic person, even if they only manage to be heroic for a while. When you read the accounts of the massacre you see the horrifying malleability of normal people. A person with a position of authority can just say the word and otherwise normal people will commit atrocities that you wouldn't believe even the lowest, most monstrous person to be capable of. Conversely, Silas Soule refuses to fight and, for the men he leads, the spell is broken and they see what the others are doing for what it is.

On a lighter note, have a read of this article. Hahaha, sigh... mormons.


Vintage Shop

Printing a Book, Old School Via Badscience

This video is an interesting cultural artefact for two reasons, the first is because it shows the olden days of publishing (hot metal type and linotype machines--ETAOIN SHRDLU and all that, no digital presses there) the second is because it's really quite astoundingly dull. A fine quality of dull that you just don't get these days.

One thing I noticed though, was the way that they missed out the entire stage of making books that I'm involved in. Back then, the manuscript would have been typed up, then the editor would have marked up the typed text with his arcane proofreading shorthand (I can do that, which is satisfying) this then went to the printer who would have typeset the text following the changes that the editor had annotated. Unlike the video, it would have been sent back to the editor after the galley proofs had been made from the hot metal type, where it would have been checked again (probably by a few different people) and sent back to the typesetter with any changes marked. After that it went to the machine.

At least, that's how I understand it. By contrast for me the process is more like this: The text arrives as an attachment on an email. The text is flowed into the layout--it is then checked, rewritten and edited as necessary. After that it is passed onto another group of editors. These editors mark their corrections and changes and send them back to the first editor, who incorporates them. He then links hi-res versions of the images to those in the layout, gets the fonts onto his machine, and converts the layout into a hi-res PDF and sends it by FTP to the printing company. Who press some buttons on a machine, I think (it's not my concern).

Yes, I know this is a monstrously boring post, but at least you know what I do for a living now.


Sunday, September 21, 2008

New York (second half)

And here’s some more ramblings about my travels. I think this will probably be my last, as if you keep going on about foreign lands too much you start to sound like a boring gap year student (there’s one at every party).

The reason, incidentally, for the sprawling tone of these posts is that that is how it’s arranged in my head—I really can’t remember what happened on what day. I didn’t have time to sit and write down my day’s experiences at the end of each day; I took some paper, but generally I was either doing something fun or passed out asleep, so I never got time to write any notes. Without them, it’s all blurred together. An effect which the 24 hour cityness of New York exacerbates*--after a few days which go on for more than a day you completely lose track of time. Anyway, on with the rambling.

The Staten Island Ferry was the source of both good and bad experiences in our time staying in NY. The first time we got on it was an impressive experience—we arrived on Staten Island over the bridge from New Jersey in a cab** so we hadn’t yet seen the harbour and Manhattan island properly. It was at around sunset when the ferry set off from St. George ferry terminal when we got on it on the first day. The sunlight was a vibrant orange colour, bathing one side of the boat in a lovely glow. It was at that height where it reflects off shiny surfaces all over the place, you get shimmering lines of orange on the curved glass of the downtown skyscrapers and little crests of glowing sunlight on the top of the waves around the boat. That first evening, we watched—slightly dazed with the time difference (we’d all been up for about 20 hours)—as the sun lowered and dimmed, silhouetting the Statue of Liberty as we chugged past. We were all left a bit speechless by that, we weren’t expecting New York to announce itself quite so dramatically.

Due to our lack of knowledge of the timetable we probably spent a good few hours sitting around in either the Manhattan or Staten Island ferry terminals waiting for our boat to turn up. Most of the time this was fine, it was good to have some time to sit and talk, just to pause and mull over the day’s activities, or to plan what would come next. The ferry trips served the same purpose too, once the initial awe had worn off—they became a time to talk and plan. There were two particular occasions though, when the time spent in the ferry terminal wasn’t welcome.

The first came when we missed our 3am ferry home by a few minutes, having all had completely knackering days--walking miles, eating loads, and going to the top of the Empire State Building—we were all just too tired to have patience for it, and just huddled in a corner of the terminal like refugees listening to the endlessly looped Staten Island tourist promotional video and thinking longingly about bed. The second occasion was on the weekend, me and Kristen had been enjoying the company of hurricane Hannah, who got me the wettest I’ve ever been. I think more completely soaked than you get when you jump in a pool. When we were running from awning to awning and hiding out in hip caf├ęs in the village it wasn’t too bad—despite the rain it was still warm, and there was a sort of mad hilarity to the whole thing. Once we were stationary in the chill, air-conditioned air of the ferry terminal, however, it went from fun to really fucking cold. There was water literally sloshing around in my shoes, my pockets actually had little pools in them, and everything in my pockets, bag, and internal organs was completely saturated. My headphones were annihilated and the book in my bag became very, very soft and bendy.

So far I may have given the impression that I spent my time in NY being super cool and hip--hanging out in Greenwich Village, wandering off the beaten track, etc--but that’s not really what we were about most of the time. We spent a lot of time on Broadway and wandering around Times Square. Rather more time wandering around times square than I think I ever want to do again come to think of it—it’s like oxford street, but with fewer Hare Krishnas and more ticket touts. I appreciated the fact that everything was cheaper in New York than it is in London, but I don't like shopping—which rather kills the fun of times square. On the second day (I think) we spent our time wandering around in the melting hot sunshine in Central Park. I think we went there just to tick it off the list, but I feel like if I had someone to lay around in the shade with and to talk to, I could easily have spent the whole holiday there. It was just so green and landscaped; no less man-made and artificial and planned than the rest of the city, but with more of a sense of fun and whimsy. I expect we only saw a fraction of the strange and interesting things that there are to see inside the park, but there was a sneaky feeling that we’d be sort of wasting our time if we spent our visit to NY in the bit of the city where you can almost forget that you’re in the city at all.

I haven’t really mentioned much about the people I was with, because I feel like that would be impolite. They were probably the most fun aspect of the holiday though, or certainly the factor that made it fun. I did write considerably more about the trip, but looking at it a few days later, it all seems pretty dull. I think I’ll keep the rest to myself.


*Not a word I would have even attempted without a spell checker.

**well, limousine actually – it would seem that there’s not much work going for limo drivers during the day on a Monday.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

And now, a mess

I'm afraid this post is just going to be a giant linksplooge, sorry.

Firstly this song by elbow, it's a freakin' masterpiece. Sit down, turn it up, and listen to the words intently. It's one of the most evocative pieces of poetry I've encountered in ages - and one that I think everyone can identify with. Hard. I had to go and sit down in a corner and stare into space for a while after hearing it, my dad linked it to me after having the exact same reaction.

On a completely different--but no less awesome--note* have a watch of this, very short video by Adam Buxton. It made me laugh until my face hurt. Adam Buxton is very cool in general, but especially when combined with Joe Cornish. The show they do on sixmusic is a good example, it's so funny I actually get up early on saturdays to listen to it.

From now on I'm afraid it's just pure dorky links.

When I'm at work i have a slight tendency to go off on tangents -- my job often requires me to look things up on the internet, and the first port of call is often wiki (usually for the websites and books cited). Unfortunately it is notoriously easy for the curious to get distracted by odd lines of thought and end up somewhere a long way from what you were supposed to be writing about.

Yesterday, for example, I looked up the film How the West Was Won for some basic information about who made it. I noticed that the screenshots of the film had funny join lines, which led me to the article about the interesting tehnological dead-end that was the Cinerama process. From there I got to a stub article about the Cooper Cinerama cinema -- which took me off wiki for a while -- and then on to the most interesting thing, and the reason for the preceeding string of tedious links: Googie Architecture.

I'd never realised that the style of wonderful roadside weirdness that you get out west had a name. Although I have to say that I much prefer the alternative name given to it by another architect: "Raygun Gothic". Just looking at those buildings makes me want to drive a large car with fins, and eat greasy food in neon lit diners.

The other interesting thing I came accross whilst doing some work related wikisurfing was the very good article on Yakima Canutt. I'd always sort of wondered how exactly the professional stuntman came into being-- just where on earth did hollywood find people who were willing to injure themselves for money, but sufficiently skilled not to die? Ah. The rodeo, of course. He lived an interesting life, certainly an impressive live for a man who never bothered to go to middle school.

But yes, if you've not heard it before listen to the Elbow Song.


*The ability to type an en dash without fucking around with unicode is the most compelling reason I've yet encountered for getting a Mac, double hyphens just don't cut it.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


I went to New York at the beginning of the month, I should probably write something about that, seeing as it’s pretty damn rare that anything that interesting happens to me. I seem to be oddly reluctant to do so though. One of the reasons is that the part of the holiday that is most vividly embedded in my memory is well, personal, but the rest of my reluctance comes from fear of writing about something so big. I’ve tried to do this before – when I returned from the US in 2006 I attempted to write a sort of record of what I did, what I saw, and how this made me feel. I seem to remember that it ran to about 5000 words before I’d even started to talk about things that happened on the second day I was there. University work then took over, and by the time I had the time to resume the story I’d become unsure of the memories I had of events – not that I’d forgotten anything, I don’t think -- just that I wasn’t entirely sure if I’d be able to give the right emphasis to what I’d seen.

Anyway. Yes. New York. I wouldn’t go as far as saying that I loved New York, but I certainly liked it a lot – unfortunately you can’t get t-shirts with ‘I really quite like NY’ written on them, so I had to go without. I got one for my little sister though, because she’s a kid, and therefore loves New York even though she’s never been there. Nonetheless, it has joined London and Berkeley, CA as places that I’d be happy to live in (London has the lead at the moment on account of the convenience factor, as I already live there). The things that put me off the place were the subtle feeling that you’re standing at the bottom of a very deep valley (which comes from all those massive buildings), and the really icky state of the Subway system.

I could probably write a whole post about the New York subway. The first reaction was “wow this is so much cheaper than the tube, and it runs all night!” but after a while of moving about in the sweaty-balls-hot, rusting-oozing, and generally disgusting stations, I realised what happens if you don’t allow much money, or time, for maintenance and cleaning. The trains were spacious, air conditioned (often to the point of being really cold), and much, much cleaner than the stations they passed through, but their pleasantness was pissed on by their infrequentness* (the tube runs about three trains for every one that arrives on the subway), and the fact that their air-conditioning vents hot air into the already sweaty stations. The other thing that seems odd for such an ordered and sensibly laid out city is that the subway is utterly baffling, with a unhelpful map, confusing routes, and a color coding system that seems largely meaningless. I find it odd that the New York City subway map is geographic rather than diagrammatic like the tube map. I suppose that the regular logical layout that the tube map pretends London has is a sort of antidote to the complete lack of any form of coherence above ground.

The city above the pavements though, is just lovely. Take a structural engineer there, or an architect, and watch them walk awkwardly, trying to hide their serious geek boner over the prettiness and towering ambition of all the buildings there. The Guggenheim museum is probably my favourite thing. It’s a museum built to celebrate pure expression of art, -- not representational or functional in the conventional sense -- and that’s just what the building is. It’s a swirly-curly masterpiece of a building, all the more elegant for being explained by my engineer brother, who was impressed by the way that the architect had made all the important structural and functional parts of the building blend seamlessly into his vision. Very cool, and it’s rare for Ed to speak of architects in a complimentary way. There was some art in it too, but other than the Kandinsky and the precisionist stuff, I wasn’t hugely impressed by that.

We went to a baseball game on our second (I think) night, which was a very odd experience. Baseball is, as I had expected, a very dull game – although seeing as I’m not really a big fan of sports in general this view is hardly surprising. The thing that impressed me about it was the whole experience of a baseball game – the sport itself feels incidental at best. There is loud music, constant crowd participation, mascot-based activities after each inning, as well as lots of booze. I drank some light beer, for the same reason that visitors to the outback sometimes eat bugs – pure anthropological curiosity. It’s definitely not something I’d subject myself to deliberately again.

There is something that I wasn’t prepared for in my trip to the city, which was how welcoming and friendly the locals were. We were staying in Staten Island, which felt familiar to me, like the south east London of New York – the big difference being that no American would ever be given as friendly a welcome as we got there. On the first night we found a bar just a few minutes walk from our house, and close to the Staten Island ferry called Jimmie Steiny’s** which had an atmosphere unlike any bar I’ve been to before. In the UK (or in London at least) pubs are either places where people come and drink with their friends, interacting with no-one else, or they are places where a small group of locals drink and hang out, but subject any newcomers to the most intimidating silence and hostility until they leave. The idea of a pub where everyone knew everyone else, and was friendly and welcoming to new people was a strange discovery.

The one very odd thing that one of my friends noticed about the citizens of New York City was the strange number of people with amputated or otherwise missing limbs. I’m not suggesting that amputation is a fashion thing over there, but it certainly seems to be a much more common occurrence than it is over here. Possible causes I was given included wars and military service, and poor healthcare (if you can’t afford health insurance it’s quite possible that diabetes could get to the leg-amputation stage pretty quickly.)

Well, I’ve rambled long enough for now. I’ll write more about this when it occurs to me – there’s still the Empire state Building, Central Park, the food (oh the food!) and many other things that I can’t think of right now to talk about


*probably not a word, but you get the idea.

**Their comments about having the best Jukebox may well be true; it was certainly very well stocked. Also their beer selection rocks, lots of good American beer, and a couple of very unusual European beers as well.